Pregnancy diary: week 19 – feet up & animal instincts

This week started with a 4-day weekend, and it’s also been half-term. My parents-in-law came for the long weekend, and my mum-in-law (who is a teacher) has been here with us for the rest of the week. This means that I’ve not had to do any house work, shopping or general chores because they did them, and they have been a big help in entertaining Andrew. So I’ve had more opportunities just to put my feet up and relax compared to a normal week. I’ve still been at work for 2 days (I got half a day off for the Tuesday bank holiday), but even so it’s been less tiring than usual. I’ve also been feeling a bit less sick, which makes sense because sickness is correlated with tiredness in this pregnancy, and I’ve definitely noticed that both have dropped a bit this week. It was about this time in pregnancy with Andrew that I started to feel more normal again, so hopefully it’s not just the relaxing week that has helped in this, but a sign of how things will stay.

Definitely looking bumpy from this angle now

Despite the unusually (for Cambridge) wet weather at the weekend, we did manage to get out for a couple of days, and visit a farm on Sunday and a zoo on Monday. It was nice to get some fresh (if a little damp!) air and amble around whilst entertaining Andrew, who really needs to run around even when it’s wet. He’s just started to get interested in animals and watching what they do, so these two venues were perfect for him.

The farm was very quiet, so we got some interesting demonstrations with just us there, including a sheep being sheared and feeding time with the calves. The calf feeding time was particularly interesting from a breastfeeding point of view. There were two calves, both of whose mums were dairy cows. The farmer explained that they take the calves away from dairy cows at about 24-48 hours after birth, otherwise it leads to problems with their milk supply. Because the cow produces loads of milk even without a calf (that’s what they are bred for), the calf would have a continuous, over-generous supply to deal with, sometimes drinking more than it needs to, and often drinking from just one nipple on the udder because it doesn’t need to change to another as the supply is so generous. This leads to the cow getting mastitis in the other parts of the udder, and you end up with a poorly cow. The reasons why the farmer takes the calf away 24-48 hours after birth (and not straight away) are (a) that they do allow the calf to drink the colostrum, the early post-birth milk full of antibodies, direct from the cow, and (b) so that the cow and calf haven’t had chance to form a bond. Once they are separated, the calf still gets to drink mum’s milk, but from the calf equivalent of a baby bottle! It’s a similar thing, but with a cow-sized teat rather than a human-sized teat. Basically these calves were being fed expressed milk from a bottle! I wish I’d taken some photos, but it was so wet I just didn’t think about it at the time.

This got me thinking about how ‘animal’ breastfeeding is, in the sense of ‘natural’, and that ultimately we are just another species of mammal, similar to cows (and dogs, cats, pigs, sheep etc.) in how we’re designed to feed our young. In fact the very name ‘mammal’ comes from the fact that mammals have mammary glands (in females) that produce milk to feed the young offspring. The milk that a cow produces is tailored to provide the calf with what it needs to survive until it’s old enough to not require the milk any more, just like human milk is tailored to provide the baby with what it needs to survive until it’s old enough to not require the milk any more. This experience of hearing a farmer talk about mastitis and colostrum (two things featuring prominently in antenatal and postnatal breastfeeding info), whilst giving some calves expressed milk from a mummy cow in a bottle, really brought home to me just how biologically natural breastfeeding is.

After this demonstration, we went to look at the pigs. Initially I walked away again, repulsed by the smell and gagging, but Tom persuaded me to try holding my nose because he thought I would love to see the little piglets that were suckling on their mum. So I braved it (actually holding my nose worked surprisingly well), and it was worth it to see the tiny baby pigs climbing all over each other to get at a nipple! There was also another mummy pig who was nearly due her piglets, and definitely looked like she was going to pop any moment! I could relate to her too πŸ™‚

Andrew looks on as a family of tapirs munch on a bush (the stripey baby is so cute!)

Babies was a theme at the zoo too. In the past few months they’d had a ‘baby boom’ as it said in the guide book. Here we’re not just talking about mammals though, but birds too. There were some owlets that had been born back in April, which didn’t look quite as cute and fluffy now as they did at a few days old in the pictures in the guide book, but still cute (you’ll have to take my word for it because I didn’t take a picture, again!) The lemurs had also been reproducing, although I’m not sure we actually saw the babies – if we did they’d grown to adult size as all the ones we saw looked the same size. Something I did capture on camera was a lovely family of tapirs – daddy, mummy and baby were happily munching on a bush in their enclosure. At one point a squirrel ran very fast through their enclosure, and it must have startled them, because all of a sudden they all ran quickly across to the other side, and the parents were very protective of the little one in their movements. Again, this reminded me of the protective feeling for my child(ren) that I have as a parent, and how we have quite a lot in common with animals: we are, after all, animals.

Next week we’ll have reached the big 2-0, the (roughly) half-way point. We’re looking forward to having another scan on Tuesday, so I’m sure there’ll be another inside the bump picture to go with the regular outside one. Where are the weeks flying to….?!

The balancing act of life: revisited

Just after I started blogging, and not long after I went back to work part-time after maternity leave, I wrote a post about balancing everything I do in a week, including being mummy, working as a researcher, doing housework, and having some time myself to go swimming, blog and bake etc. Then a while later, having settled into this balancing act a bit more, I wrote a guest post for The Family Patch on a similar topic. This last week has reminded me of these posts; as I’ve been thinking and reflecting on how the balancing act is working, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts from back then and write about my thoughts now.

Us chilling out on the sofa when Granny and Grandad visited recently

This week has been a lovely week. I’ve had a week of annual leave, which has meant my little boy and I have been able to spend a whole week together. It’s been so fun! We’ve not been away anywhere (Daddy gets less annual leave than me, well, pro-rata as I work part-time), but we just enjoyed a normal week of activities around town. It reminded me of being on maternity leave, and I’d almost forgotten how fun the groups are that I used to go to with him then. I joined my boys at their regular music group on Tuesday morning, we met up with friends, went swimming twice, and hung out at the park a few times.

At the park - what is this weird satellite dish thing?!

It’s not that we don’t usually get chance to do any of this, but it was so good to have a whole week of quality time, just Andrew and me. We didn’t have to rush off to the childminder on two mornings, nor did I have to race on with dinner straight after getting home in the evening from her house. Life has been more relaxed than the usual racing about making sure we’re in the right place at the right time with the right things packed in our different bags (i.e. no nappies in my work bag and no laptop equipment in the change bag). This week has really made me appreciate just how busy I’ve been working part-time as well as being a mum.

Recently over at BritMums, there’s been a discussion about whether mums can ‘have it all’, in other words can they have successfully juggle life with kids, work and time for themselves? I think there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. We’re all different with different personalities and different situations. As others commented on this BritMums discussion thread, I think it’s partly to do with how you define ‘having it all’. I mean it’s possible to have bits of time in your week devoted to kids, work, home and yourself. How you prioritise each of these, and things within these broad ‘categories’ will of course differ from family to family, and that’s not to say one family is any worse off for it than another. But I’m not sure it’s possible (for me) to ‘have it all’ in the sense that each of these categories would not end up being lived out to the full in the same way as they would with someone who didn’t have one of these categories in their life (e.g. didn’t have kids or didn’t work). Again, not that this is necessarily a problem, it’s just a question of what outcome one prefers to have, and therefore what has to give and take a little in order to get there.

Swinging in the sunshine

At the moment I know that the equation life = being mum + working + doing housework + having me-time results in a real balancing act. Some weeks I feel I pull this act off, other weeks I’m not so happy with myself for how I’ve handled it. This past week has brought it home to me how taking out ‘work’ from the equation has not only left me with more time for being mum and being myself (during toddler naps), but has meant less rushing around from one place to another, and less stress over getting ready for the day and for bedtime. I don’t think I appreciated just how hard this is until I didn’t have to do it for a week.

Must all good things come to an end? Unfortunately the good thing that was this week must come to an end, and I must go back to work next week. However, I don’t want to give the impression that I hate work or that I’m ungrateful for having a job, because these two things couldn’t be further from the truth. There are several good points about my job which I blogged about before. It’s just that I don’t feel I currently ‘have it all’ – I don’t have as much time with my boy as I’d like, and I don’t have the longer term motivation at work because I don’t have the aspiration to work my way up in an academic career (which is what many people with jobs like mine go on to do). But I know this feeling won’t last forever, and that’s what’s helping me through. My job runs until the end of this year, at which point I won’t look for another. I feel like my primary role in life at the moment is to be a mum, and in order to do this most effectively given our current situation, I would like to not have the extra pressure of a part-time job.

Learning our rainbow colours - in three languages of course πŸ™‚

And finally, something that has encouraged me this week to be patient with how things are at the moment, and trust that this is not how it will always be. As I wasn’t at work, I was able to join in with the weekly women’s Bible study group at church like I used to on maternity leave. Andrew loves playing in the creche there with his favourite children’s worker Matt – he even walked into the room himself and started playing as soon as we got there. This gave me an hour to myself, and time to reflect on a short Bible passage that we read and discussed together. We looked at a chapter from the letter written by James, including these verses which spoke to me:

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5: 7-8)

This reminded me that I can’t necessarily have things exactly how I want right now, and that I need to be patient. I’ve never been great with patience; it’s certainly something I need to work on and have asked God to help me with a lot. The analogy with a farmer in these verses was clear for me to relate to; I need to wait for the autumn and spring rains, the right moment when God says to me that now is the time to move on to the next thing He has planned for me. And until that time, I trust that He will give me the strength and perseverance to do my best at the balancing act of life.